NAPLES — Members of Sheffield Crew, a Marco Island-based reggae fusion band, consider themselves a tight-knit group of “little monsters.”
At night, they come out to play. On stage, they feed off the crowd’s energy.
But in high school, they were a rag-tag group of teens linked by their love of music.
“We didn’t hang out and play video games. We wrote music. We played music,” Chris Jacobs, lead vocalist and songwriter of Sheffield Crew, said.
Although it has gone through different line-ups over the years, the current band is made up of five musicians who have known each other since their time in Lely High School: brothers Chris and Shaun “Swag-n-Surf” Jacobs, Daniel Iaconelli, Steve “Hashbrown” Davis and Mike Dernin.
The members of Sheffield Crew believe they are “the one and only” when it comes to their style of music, although they find it hard to define what that style really is. Sheffield Crew creates a musical “mash-up” of the cultures and sounds around them, as well as their own life experiences.
When they were teens, the Jacobs brothers spent a year in Costa Rica with their parents. It was then that they visited local dance halls and picked up the salsa and calypso influences that have seeped into the Sheffield Crew melodies.
Ioconelli, who did a stint in college as a vocal performance major, is really interested in South African tribal chants right now, although he’s always been an expert in classic rock.
Dernin even believes attending Lely High was an important factor in developing the Sheffield Crew sound. “It was multicultural,” he said.
There is no formula, according to Sheffield Crew.
But once, a music industry insider took a look at the band’s business card, noticed the litany of genres they listed under their logo — including ska, hip-hop and psychedelic — and advised the band to simplify.
“When you are trying to relate to the market, the market wants one label,” Chris Jacobs said.
He thinks that kind of advice leads bands to make concessions that make it easier for music labels to market songs but are not representative of the people who listen to them.
“I don’t know one person who just listens to one kind of music anymore,” he said.
Sheffield Crew promises their self-produced upcoming album, which is tentatively titled “When the Night Falls,” will reflect their eclectic tastes and will avoid the overly produced formula they feel has hurt music.
“I like putting on a record, closing my eyes and feeling like I’m in the room with the Beatles,” Chris Jacobs said.
That sensation motivated them to record a different kind of album. “We want to sound like you’re standing in front of us,” he said.
To recreate that “personal” mood, the band has had to go to extremes by today’s standards. They dumped their producer, canceled their professional studio time, then turned Iaconelli’s three-bedroom house into their own music-making hub.
Sheffield Crew members have been recording their parts simultaneously instead of as a series of disconnected solos. They are not using the common digital sound editing techniques to perfect their voices or playing, either.
The end result, they hope, will be something authentic and raw.
“We exist on stage. We exist in front of a bunch of screaming and dancing people, and that’s how we want to sound,” Chris Jacobs said.
Ever since they started, live performances have been a central feature of the band’s identity. The Jacobs’ house on Sheffield Avenue had a detached garage, and it became the ideal place for the Marco Island teens to play and listen to music. There were no restrictions on who could join the band, so it was large at first.
“We used to have four guitar players,” Shaun Jacobs said. “And a horn player.”
Pretty soon, the garage became the hangout for Lely High students, even the ones who didn’t want to play an instrument.
“We were a big crew of friends,” Davis said.
And so their band became Sheffield Crew.
When Sheffield Crew released its first CD, they burned a bunch of copies on their personal computers and started an aggressive guerrilla marketing campaign. Sheffield Crew would play anywhere they could, even the beach, which proved to be a clever strategy during the tourist season.
“We would hand (tourists) our CD and they would take it back to where they are from,” Shaun Jacobs said. “It traveled further than we could have imagined.”
Over the years, an “anthem track” with “Sheffield Crew” in the lyrics helped curious listeners who were given unlabeled copies of the CD to find the band online via search engines.
Even though it’s been about a decade since the release of that album, the band said fans still talk to them about it.
“When they tell you they grew up listening to your songs that’s pretty cool,” Dernin said.
They’re hoping to reach even more people outside Southwest Florida.
Recently, Sheffield Crew entered an online battle of the bands contest and earned the chance to play a 20-minute set at the Warped Tour when the music festival made a stop in West Palm Beach last month.
Before that, Sheffield Crew took a road trip to New York City and got to play in the legendary CBGB bar before it closed in 2006.
When they’re not touring, Sheffield Crew plays gigs in the ever-expanding local music scene.
“The only places (to play) in Naples used to be warehouses and house parties. ... Now bands like us play on Fifth (Avenue),” Chris Jacobs said. “That used to be taken up by Jimmy Buffett.”
No matter where they are, live shows will always be their focus. It’s what they enjoy the most.
“I don’t think that will ever leave any of us,” Iaconelli said.
Music is an “all day, all life” situation for Sheffield Crew. They want to age à la Mick Jagger, who, at 67 years old, is still playing live gigs with his bandmates.
“I might be Keith Richards, but as long as I’m one of the Rolling Stones, I’m cool,” Chris Jacobs said.